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With Alias Enterprises deciding to put all their eggs in the Christian market’s basket, several titles created by the company’s co-founder, Mike S. Miller, needed a new home. Enter Abacus Comics, a new publisher headed by Miller and the new haven for Lullaby, Imaginaries and other titles.

Broken Frontier spoke to Miller about starting up a new company on his own, his choice to publish nothing but ongoing series, and when readers can expect the first Abacus series in stores.

BROKEN FRONTIER: For everyone who missed the announcement earlier this month, please recap Alias’ decision to focus on Christian-themed books—what motivated the move and why do you think it’s a good, and ultimately profitable, move to make?

MIKE S. MILLER: Alias’ decision to move into a solely Christian direction was made by looking at the facts on the table, and seeing that we were spending more of our time and effort on the Direct Market end of our company at the expense of our more lucrative Christian market efforts. 

This is a business decision that was just too obvious to ignore.  Even breaking even on the Direct Market books means losing time that we could be making money in the Christian market.  Plus, we were never going to be the big fish in the Direct Market, but it’s looking pretty good that we’ll be a major player in the Christian field.  As mentioned in our Press Release, we’ve already got a working relationship with multiple major publishers in the Christian world.

BF: The refocusing of Alias’ publishing plan left your books without a home. When was the Alias decision made internally, which in turn made you realise you needed a new haven Lullaby, Imaginaries and the like?

MSM: It was made about a month ago; I can’t give you an exact date. But yes, it did mean that I had to find a new outlet for my creations. As non-offensive as Imaginaries and Lullaby are, they still aren’t specifically Christian in theme, so that would have been a tough hill to climb if I tried to keep them at Alias.

BF: How did you come up with the name ‘Abacus’? And what’s the reason for deciding on that name, other than it starting with an ‘A’ means you’re in the front of the Comics & Graphic Novels section in Previews each month?

MSM: Well, yes, aside from the obvious ‘starts with an ‘A’ marketing reasons, I have fond childhood memories of my Mom using an abacus to do the bills.  She’s from Japan, and her generation used those crazy contraptions to count on.  Plus, I always love the sound of the word;  
Abacus just sounds cool. [Laughs]  Also, it symbolizes something that people can count on, which is what I want Abacus comics to mean to people.

BF: Since you’re at the head of both Alias and Abacus, how does one go dividing his time between two companies he finds equally important?

MSM: Actually, Brett [Burner, publisher of Alias] and I have been discussing that quite a bit lately.  He’s been wanting to take a bigger role both publicly and internally in Alias as a ministry as well as a business now that Alias is ‘going Christian’. 

So, I’m likely going to be stepping down from many of my responsibilities at Alias to allow Brett room to grow and mold Alias into the new direction it’s heading in.  That’s not to say I won’t still have input into the company, but I won’t be the figurehead/spokesperson of Alias any longer.  I guess you kind of got the scoop on that story!

BF: Was there any interest from other publishers to house your titles?

MSM: I didn’t ask.

BF: So you felt right away it was best to do this on your own, as a self-publisher?

MSM: I’ve learned a lot over the last 4 or 5 years. I think I’ve done every job there is to have in the comic publishing business except being a publisher. [Laughs[ So I don’t want to back-peddle and end up back at Image or going through someone else as a studio.  Plus, I’d have to sell a lot more books going through someone else to make this a viable venture than I can starting my own publishing company.

BF: Will Abacus be the home of your titles exclusively, or is the door open for other creators to join?

MSM: I’m open to taking submissions, but the idea isn’t to grow that quickly. At first, we’ll just be doing my books and Mortal World Entertainments books.  If our schedule allows, and the submissions meet certain criteria, I’m open to the possibility of expanding in the future. But not just yet…

BF: What I find interesting about Abacus’ strategy is its ‘ongoing series policy’. This means that you’re going against the current industry trend somewhat—started by the smallest of companies only to be adopted even by Marvel and DC—to test the waters with mini series and do an ongoing later if things stick.

MSM: The pattern I found in publishing mini series at Alias was that minis, even with a decent start, ended on a bad note.  For some strange reason, and it’s retailers who told me this, mini-series almost always end very poorly.  Then if you go to a second mini-series, the sales on the second start with lower numbers on #1, and end even worse than the first. 

With an ongoing, sure, you’re going to have higher starting numbers, and they will taper down and flatline, but if it’s a good book, those numbers will climb again, and you can build a readership.  Plus, you’ll have an ongoing series that is supported by trade paperbacks.  I could give you examples of books that started pretty strong, and tapered down in sales for months, but which after a couple years came back to their original numbers and above, and continue to climb in readership. 

That’s the model I’d like to go for, rather than hitting with a mini series, ‘testing’ the waters, which seems like telling the public ‘we don’t believe in this product enough to support it as an ongoing’.  If we don’t support a book enough to make it an ongoing, why should the fans?

BF: So, what happens when a creator comes up to you with an absolutely great idea for a mini series? Will you make an exception in that case?

MSM: Enter the Abacus Omnibus.  Like the great anthologies that came before, Dark Horse Presents, Marvel Comics Presents, etc., the Abacus Omnibus will be an ongoing series that features shorter stories.  

Because, yeah, there are great stories that have a beginning, middle and an end, and it would be a shame to miss out on the opportunity to publish something great because we don’t want to produce mini series.

BF: Doing nothing but ongoing books implies a strong commitment month after month. Now, I don’t want to revisit any of Alias’ early shipping woes, but instead want to know if you’ve used it as a learning experience for Acabus and how readers will see the fruits of those efforts…

MSM: Absolutely.  I think our first and most painful mistake at Alias was missing our first target date for shipping.  Sure, technically books aren’t ‘late’ until the following month, but in the eyes of fans and retailers, you miss ‘April’ and you’ve missed the boat.  And considering we print in South Korea, that’s literal.

One thing that people will have to keep in mind, and that we will have to keep a very sharp eye on, is that Abacus will be using the same printer that Alias uses, so we will still be shipping from South Korea.  It’s the best printing in the comic industry, as anyone with an Alias book in their collection can tell you, so we don’t want to go anywhere else.  But it does mean that our books will tend to ship toward the end of the solicited month, even if we go to print before we have final numbers from Diamond.

I have developed an eye for guesstimating orders once they start trickling in from retailers, so I hope to get the books out as early in the month as possible.

BF: When will we see the first of these ongoing releases hit the stands?

MSM: Our first ongoing offering will be Kord and Harley (check below for a preview - ed.), produced by Matthew Adams and Mortal World Entertainment and slated to launch in March.  The book can be pre-ordered at our website store along with our other offerings. We will also be soliciting an all new printing of the fan-favorite trade paperback Lullaby: Wisdom Seeker with an additional cover and sketch gallery. That too can be pre-ordered at the store.

In the end, we really hope the fans and retailers give Abacus a chance.  Like I mentioned above, we believe in these books enough to support them all as ongoing series, and we hope that’s an indication to the fans and retailers alike that they can believe in them too.  

Our motivation isn’t to get rich quick. We could certainly be making bigger dollars in other fields.  It isn’t to sell our comics as movies—although that would be nice too! [Laughs] We’re not doing all this work just because it’s fun, even though it is.  We want to build something based off of the medium we love: comic books.  We think most fans out there can relate to that desire, and hope that we can be their proxy in this jaded industry.

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